Similar in appearance to the modern trombone, the sackbut was the only chromatic brass instrument available to Renaissance composers. The name of this instrument has gone through many different versions including sacbut, sagbutt, shagbut and shakbush. The harmonic possibilities of the sackbut have been put to great use in the polychoral sacred music so typical of the Italian and German composers, as well as in conjuring up scenes of the spiritual underworld, for example, Monteverdi's l'Orfeo and Mozart's Don Giovanni.
This instrument is a musical hybrid, crossing a woodwind instrument's body with a brass instrument's mouthpiece. Combining easily with virtually any ensemble, the cornett is more usually associated with the sackbut. The great Renaissance masters such as Monteverdi, Schütz and Gabrieli, all wrote virtuosic parts for the cornett and embody the high esteem in which the instrument was held. In England, the "Sagbutts and Cornetts" to the Royal Court had a suite of dances especially composed for them by Matthew Locke, written for the Restoration of Charles II.
The natural trumpet differs from the modern trumpet in two crucial ways: firstly, it is twice the length and secondly, it has no valves and is therefore unable to play more than a limited number of notes. These properties make the natural trumpet very distinctive. The military connotations of the trumpet made it one of the most prized instruments at court, often the trumpet corps outnumbered all the other courtly musicians put together; the Charamela Real corps in Lisbon called for 24 trumpets for one of its fanfares.
The broad term "continuo" is used to encompass a group of instruments which provide a realisation of a figured bass to a given piece; sometimes this figuring is absent from the written parts but the job of continuo is by no means excused in these instances. QuintEssential uses a typical accompaniment for wind instruments which is a wind blow continuo, the chamber organ. Although it is usual in QuintEssential to use an organ for the continuo instrument, the keyboard player would naturally adapt to providing a continuo realisation from a harpsichord or the regal, an exclusively reed organ. In addition, the colour of the whole ensemble is lifted when two or more instruments are used for continuo so, for instance, there may be a theorbo, harp, harpsichord and organ all realising the same basso continuo part, the overall effect being a rich and sumptuous sound.